In August of 20XX, a mysterious gate suddenly appears in modern-day Tokyo’s Ginza district. Warriors who appear to be from middle-age Europe, monsters (e.g. “orcs” and dragons) and other fantasy-like beings pour out of the gate killing many Tokyo citizens in the name of conquest. The Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) is quickly mobilized and defeats the invaders using superior modern weaponry and tactics, but the mysterious gate remains. The Japanese government decides to send part of the JSDF to investigate the alternate world beyond the gate. Led by otaku soldier Lt. Itami,Youji, an Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon (Recon 3) discovers that villages in the world are being attacked by a flame dragon. An elf girl, the sole survivor of one such attack, joins the group as they travel across this dangerous new world.
Gate: Jieitai Kanochi nite, Kaku Tatakaeri (Gate: Thus the JSDF Fought There (“GATE”)) started as a web novel which, among other things, was noted for right-wing politics. The web novel was turned into a novel which, from comments I’ve read, toned down the political stuff some. The web novel was then taken down so novel = “cannon”/original source material. The novel was adapted into a light novel (LN) which apparently further toned down the political stuff along with some other things (my impression is that the LN is more “PG” shounen than “R” rated seinen). Lastly the novel was adapted into a manga which according to comments I’ve read follows the novel closely (manga is definitely NSFW/ “R” rated seinen). Currently, only the manga is translated to English in any meaningful aspect, and right now is just past the first two novels/4 LNs. The anime is supposed to be based upon the LN, so differences between that and the manga may be either due to anime only changes or differences between the LN and manga adaptations.
Let me get this out of the way. First, GATE anime so far isn’t bad. Second, I’d probably like it more if I hadn’t read the manga. No, I’m 99.99% sure I’d like it more if I hadn’t read the manga. I think you can see where this is headed. Yeah, GATE anime is not bad, but it could be a lot better in my opinion, and doesn’t compare well to the manga. It’s really unfortunate because the issues are not due to potential broadcast censoring or limited air time (this got a 2-cour/24 episode run). There are a myriad of reasons why this is so for me. Among the foremost are character changes. Itami (33 years old) isn’t an otaku, he’s an OTAKU!!! in the anime. Nice thing about “manga Itami” is that he has a good balance between “Itami the otaku” and “Itami the soldier”. Not only did that make him a very likable character for me, but it also helped a lot with suspension of disbelief when it came to more serious scenes when Itami takes charge as commander. Anime’s presentation (which I can only surmise was done for extra “comedy”) undermines his character. Sorry, but for me “anime Itami” is not nearly as good of a character as “manga Itami.”
Sadly, the character changes are not limited to Itami. Suddenly Kurata (age 21) is a “sort of kind of” otaku, which is a big change from the manga. In the anime he plays the straight man to Itami a lot whereas in the manga, he’s a very big otaku (more so than Itami) and a huge fan of monster girls. He’s the comedy relief guy. He also comes across is more immature in the manga than Itami which makes sense given their age difference and rank. It’s like the anime swapped their personalities. 😦 While I don’t hate Kurata, he’s definitely not my favorite member of Recon 3, so I’m not really thrilled the anime decided to give him a much larger role because… “reasons”. “Anime Tuka” (sorry, I like manga TL Tuka better) is more timid than “manga Tuka” because… hell if I know. Gotta fill a trope/cliché? She does have the whole dad/fire dragon PTSD thing going on, but the anime went noticeably beyond that. Bleh.
Another issue is that while I expected the anime to be less graphic/gory/intense (i.e. more “PG” shounen than “R” rated seinen), I think it goes too far in that regard. In some cases, it’s fine, but things like the comic book looking orc (also in PV), and far worse Sonic the HedgeOrc (same one?) – complete with spinning ball attack no less, are utterly unnecessary and hurt suspension of disbelief. How the hell am I supposed to take the Ginza battle seriously with that stuff (and no, a bit of blood spatter doesn’t whitewash the issue)? So far, I think the atmosphere of the battles is a bit off, and they could do a better job of that even with broadcast restrictions. Ushio to Tora seems fine (no censoring) with showing people chomped to pieces. Kind of weird when that anime (adaptation of a classic shounen manga) is more graphic than GATE. Furthermore, the manga has a lot more “military lingo” which in my opinion very much helps to “set the mood”/atmosphere. The battles thus far felt more real in the manga which is kind of weird given the differences in medium. Focusing on the empire side exclusively in Ep. 02 wasn’t nearly as effective as the manga’s presentation, and frankly, Duran’s (Dulan in the manga TL) “I shoot my arrow at thee” moment was kind of over-the-top silly rather than anything dramatic.
Comedy is subjective so just my opinion here. With that disclaimer out of the way, the anime’s “comedy” is not working for me, and I don’t think it’s due to being spoiled. I’ve read the manga multiple times and laughed at the same jokes. Anime comedy presentation/timing is off. Well, that and such “jokes” as Lelei doing her “Darth Vader” impersonation in a military bio/chem hazard uniform complete with gas mask. LOL? Rather than LOL, I wondered (a) where she got that, and (b) when she requested one (she didn’t steal it did she?), why the person didn’t say “it’s perfectly safe to go outside the military complex walls, you don’t need it”. Sadly, I did LOL a couple of times, but it wasn’t at parts intended to be funny. Hate to keep repeating the same theme, but yeah, manga does comedy better. Honestly, I could add other complaints, including what Bear mentions below.
So what is working? I like the OP quite a bit. Did a pretty good job with that though the disco inspired ED is kind of weird. Overall GATE anime visually is pretty good. Nothing exceptional like last season’s UBW, but at least above average in my opinion. Even the CGI dragon wasn’t too bad (as far as CGI dragons go – guess a good CGI dragon is still beyond modern technology). That’s a plus because the GATE series does lend itself to a more visual medium with all the battles and fantasy setting. While above I mentioned battle shortcomings, the battles are not bad. Not nearly as much standing around and talking as some shows which is very much appreciated but I could do with less speed lines. Scene transition is mixed. For the most part pretty good, but a couple of times going from comedy to serious didn’t work very well. Eh, could be worse so let’s call it a plus. The pacing is kind of slow/off. Now that might be because I know the story, and thus could be just fine for anime only viewers. Not sure, but still seems a bit slow/padded to me. At least it’s not rushed/super compressed some other adaptations so in the plus category it goes. There are some other minor positives such as the anime-only(?) bit with the little girl in the middle/end of Ep. 01.
This is getting long so I’ll wrap things up. GATE anime is “OK”, but falls short – too short, of its potential and the manga. For those interested in the anime or enjoying it so far, absolutely no reason not to check it out/continue watching. However, I do recommend that you do not read the manga until after watching the anime. As far as a military anime goes, it’s a bit disappointing as well – again falling short of the manga’s standard.
This show has convinced me that reading the source material before watching the anime is probably going to reduce if not destroy my enjoyment of the anime version. Not that the anime is always worse than the source material, but it works better for me if I read the manga or LN afterwards to “fill in the blanks”. For some reason directors feel like they have to change things. Now there are times where it’s necessary because of budget, time or because the source doesn’t translate well to a visual medium. I don’t see that applying here. Gate is a good example of where, while it doesn’t ruin the story, it detracts from the original. In this case I mean the manga. I don’t know if the LN character designs reflect the LN or not, but I’m not a fan of how the women are drawn in the anime. Many of them are too “cute”. Maybe that’s a budgetary thing but it reduces the sense of their competence. For example manga Kuribayashi looks orders of magnitude more bad ass than anime Kuribayashi.
The changes in Itami and Kurata, as daikama pointed out, made Itami more of a clown than the manga. In the manga, while he’s not a hard charger, when push comes to shove he steps up and takes charge. In the anime I don’t feel like he’s that competent and it’s more luck that he comes out on top.
One area that the anime is doing a decent job of is the JSDF equipment. Their rifles are Howa Type 64 and the AT weapon they fired at the flame dragon was a Panzerfaust 3, both of which are in the JSDF inventory. Here’s a link to a site that’s done a good job of identifying the weapons. OTOH, the Panzerfaust 3 shell flew in a totally ridiculous manner. I’ve seen TOW’s fly like that but the Panzerfaust 3 shell just doesn’t weave around in the air. I would like to see more of their equipment and operational methods and I wish they had done the battles more in the way they were done in the manga but I’ll take what I can get.
Gate is not the worst adaptation I’ve seen, and actually it’s above average in a number of respects up to this point. I also have to second the comments daikama has made in his critique.